As one of two major sports leagues with a hard salary cap (the other being NHL) and handing out much larger contracts, maintaining success over an extended period of time is arguably more difficult in the National Football League than it is in any other major American sport. League.
After all, the only one of the “big four” leagues with the longest active streak without a back-to-back champion is Major League Baseball.
Yet the Kansas City Chiefs, who are holding a parade today to celebrate their Super Bowl LVII victory, have overcome the salary cap issues that come with keeping some of the league’s most talented players beyond their rookie contracts and are on track. if not already there – to be the next NFL dynasty.
With their 38-35 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Chiefs joined the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers as the third team this century to win at least two Super Bowl titles in four years.
Kansas City has also appeared in five straight conference championship games, something only the 1973-77 Oakland Raiders and 2011-18 Patriots have accomplished in the Super Bowl era.
The best teams always have some of the best players, and those players get paid the most.
One of the only downsides to having consistent success in drafts is the inability to retain all the talent when their first contract expires.
The Chiefs’ front office — led by Mount Carmel native general manager Brett Veach — faced this dilemma ahead of the 2022-23 season, when it came time to make a decision about the future of the then six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver. Tyreek Hill.
Hill has inarguably been a major reason for the Chiefs’ unparalleled success since Veach was promoted to the GM position in the summer of 2017, but certain areas of Kansas City’s roster were lacking and should have gone unaddressed if Veach and company had extended Hill due to salary cap constraints.
Not to mention now two-time regular season MVP and two-time Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes had already signed a record-breaking 10-year $450 million deal at the time.
So, Veach and his staff made the difficult decision to cut ties with one of the league’s top wide receivers, trading Hill to the Miami Dolphins on March 23 for five draft picks: three in last year’s draft and a fourth and a sixth round in this year’s draft, to be hosted by Kansas City.
“The issues that come with having a really good roster like picking late in the draft and paying a lot of great players are starting to add up. We hit a crossroads in the offseason when the wide receiver market went to a different stratosphere,” Veach recalled of the days leading up to the Hill trade on Tuesday’s episode of The Pat McAfee Show. “We knew we had some talented players, we would be picking late in the drafts and we wouldn’t have much roof space.
“There’s going to be that moment in any franchise where you have to make tough decisions, so we wanted to reinvest in the youngsters and try to be more level-headed. We know we will always score points. We have Pat Mahomes and Travis Kelce. We’re starting to reinvest in young players, especially on the defensive side, and I think it’s worked.”
The 29th overall draft pick that Miami traded to Kansas City as part of the return for Hill was then part of one that was flipped to New England for the 21st overall pick, where Veach and company selected Trent McDuffie, a corner behind Washington.
Then, with the 30th overall pick the Chiefs already had, they selected George Karlaftis, a Purdue defenseman.
Both first rounds started Sunday, and McDuffie was one of only four Kansas City defenders to play 100 percent defensive snaps.
A third rookie defensive back, cornerback Jaylen Watson, also started every postseason game after being drafted in the seventh round, one of the many success stories Kansas City has had in the final rounds in recent years.
“Those guys played a lot of snaps. Our rookies have had the third most snaps in the entire NFL, and the only rookie class that has played more than ours are the No. 1 and 2 picks,” said Veach, whose team was the seventh youngest in the league in this season. “Our rookies have been asked to play a significant part in a really good team. They’ve stepped up and those defensive rookies have played their best football towards the end of the season, which is when you need it most. In it kind of worked that way.
Another of Veach’s seventh-round wonders to emerge from the 2022 draft was starting running back Isiah Pacheco, who finished the regular season fifth in rushing yards (830) among rookies despite being 22nd taken off the board in the its location. He was also the leading rusher in the Super Bowl, amassing 76 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries.
In his pre-draft press conference in April, Veach called his shot before picking Pacheco, similar to how he famously did with Mahomes when the league’s top QB was an undisclosed freshman at Texas Tech.
“The running back class this year is really crazy,” Veach said last April. “When you factor in that Covid year from last year and some of the kids who stayed in school. I’ve never seen such a large group of running backs in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. It’s like the names go from the top of the ceiling to the bottom. I told our guys there will be a 1,000-yard rusher who is a seventh-round pick, just because of the sheer volume of numbers.
Including his postseason stats, Pacheco finished with 1,027 yards on 207 carries, six of which went for touchdowns.
Only three other rookies—Jacksonville’s Travis Etienne, Seattle’s Kenneth Walker, and Atlanta’s Tyler Allgier—ran for 1,000 yards. They were drafted in the first, second and fifth rounds, respectively.
Aside from Kansas City’s first touchdown, an 18-yard reception in the first quarter to tie the score at seven apiece, the Chiefs’ other four touchdowns have been scored by players drafted or traded by Veach over the past two seasons.
Linebacker Nick Bolton, selected in the second round of the 2021 draft, rallied to return Jalen Hurts’ second quarter fumble to make it 14-14.
Then, in the third quarter, Eagles running back Miles Sanders dropped the ball on a vicious hit by L’Jarius Sneed on a play that was initially ruled a catch-and-fumble, and Bolton picked up the rind and l ‘she returned. 24 yards for what was originally called his second touchdown of the night before instant replay overturned the call for being an incomplete pass.
Had the call stood, Bolton, at just 22, would almost certainly have won Super Bowl MVP, which would have made him the youngest ever to win the award. Instead, he went to Mahomes, the first player to win a Super Bowl MVP and Super Bowl MVP in the same season.
The Chiefs took their first lead of the game three minutes into the fourth quarter with a pass from Mahomes to Kadarius Toney, which Veach acquired in a trade to the New York Giants giving up a third- and sixth-round pick in the draft this year.
Toney has been overlooked in New York, failing to record a single touchdown in 12 games with his first team before getting four of 10 games with Kansas City this season.
Their final touchdown was scored by West Michigan second-round receiver Skyy Moore who was drafted with the second of five picks acquired in the Hill trade.
The Chiefs will have some tougher decisions to make this offseason, as they won’t be able to keep the 12 unrestricted free agents who have been key contributors this season, including LT Orlando Brown Jr., WR JuJu Smith- Schuster, OL Andrew Wylie, DT Derrick Nnadi, DE Carlos Dunlap, S Juan Thornhill, RB Jerrick McKinnon and WR Mecole Hardman, among others.
The salary cap will always be an issue when trying to extend excellence, but two-time Super Bowl champion Mount Carmel, GM, has thrived on running it for five and a half hour offseasons with draft picks, trade pieces and under Radar buys, so don’t be surprised if – and probably when – it does it again.